The Bit.Trip series always seemed like an experiment in something, it just wasn't totally clear what that something was. Plonked onto WiiWare, a download service that, let's face it, rarely guaranteed a good return for developers, Gaijin's games seemed more like tinkerings than fully formed experiences, individual ideas given space to breathe visually and mechanically.
There was something in that process though, proved best by the success of the original Runner, a game that laid a retro, music-obsessed aesthetic over a traditional platformer.
It was a perfect combination of freshness and familiarity, released just before auto-runners had (ahem) run themselves into the ground, and a little after the rhythm action genre had hit its cultural zenith. It felt familiar enough to jump straight into, weird enough to engage and wall-endangeringly difficult enough to keep the world's plasterers busy. And it sold.
You Better Run
Runner 2 isn't an experiment: it's a modification, or an iteration, at best. It's the endpoint that reveals the original purpose of the Bit.Trip experiment, which was to discover a bankable, single-track idea that appeared to take minimal effort to make. It's a very simple concept.
Like its predecessor, it is essentially a surreal hurdling event. You've got a long, straight course, but it undulates dangerously as you run. You've got simple jumping obstacles, but you also have to slide under or break through others. Also, sometimes you do loop-the-loops and at others you're attacked by levitating cubes. If you run into anything, you're flung back to your last checkpoint. It's a game that predicates itself entirely on instinctive reactions, as opposed to puzzle-based creativity. Every reaction is mapped to a different button press or stick movement, challenging as much with speedy hand movement as it does visual interpretation.
Runner 2's real innovation comes in adding a more traditionally videogame-y on-the-fly mapping style, asking you to navigate courses at speed to find hidden treasures, secret retro levels (which dress themselves up in a Famicom-aping 8-bit style) and alternative exits, while still collecting the gold bars that make up the bulk of your points score. So in that sense it's not unlike enforced speed-run of an early Mario game.
We might just have accidentally convinced ourselves that this is a) far more complex than you'd think and b) pretty brilliant. The cynic of three paragraphs ago might see Gaijin's experiments as an efficient means of making money by finding popular, simplistic action games and sprucing up their niche-appeal artstyle.
Looking at the final result shows this is much more than that, a game that actively works to conceal how much there is going on until you're hours in. It's a technique that comes out of the game's biggest improvement over its antecedent, the learning curve. Where the first game, by merit of its comparative shortness, threw every idea it had at you within a few levels, Runner 2 uses its full-length status (there are 125 stages to complete over five worlds) to ease you in. You'll be encountering new obstacles or moves well past the first full world - many of which, like slide-jumping and loops, weren't in the first game - and entire levels are designed to help you understand their uses and limitations.